Friday, July 22, 2011

Oral History at Russell Market

Recently, we’ve have been talking to street vendors and shop owners at Russell market in Bangalore. I include below excerpts from an interview:

“In the Russell market of old, the population was much less. There were many foreigners. You can say that one could buy just about anything here. There was nothing that was not available here. Now, there are many changes, there are traffic problems, there are parking problems. The maintenance of the market is not proper." 

We found that most of the older vendors have pleasant memories of the market and their day-to-day business. There was a substantial part of the clientele that was Anglo-Indian. Many of these were people who lived in Shivajinagar, the residential neighbourhood that envelops the Russell market and the 'Cantonment area' nearby. The vendors at Russell market speak with great pride about the wide variety of exotic fruits and vegetables you could buy here, some of which were imported from outside the country, especially during Christmas, when there was a 2-day Exhibition at the market, with vendors displaying some of the most attractive agricultural produce, and displays that competed for prizes at the Market Exhibition.

"Today, there are no officers in-charge like before. There used to be an office upstairs on the first floor of the market. There were watchmen all around the market building. There is nobody looking after this place now. This is a Corporation market. Earlier, when there were good officers, the market was maintained well. It was frequented by foreigners. Today, foreigners are afraid to come here. Maintenance is not proper. The shops are not proper. There is not a good enough accessway. They are giving our market a bad reputation"

Many of the vendors express the lack of support from the Municipal Corporation in terms of infrastructure upgradation and maintenance. However, we learnt that the vendors who have shops inside the market building pay a monthly rent of only Rs.200. The BBMP or municipality is reluctant to upgrade since their monthly revenue from the market is quite low and they are unable to get the vendors to pay a higher rent.

"Earlier, our business was so good. The people who now come to Russell market are fewer in number. Today, the market caters mainly to hotels and retail business has totally flopped. Parking has been a big problem. Even today, the vegetables you can get here, you will not get anywhere, the rare varieties. The customers don’t have parking space. Nobody can bring foreigners here to show them around."

Russell market is located at one end of Noronha road with the historic St.Mary's Basilica at its other end. It is a beautiful tree-lined avenue and one can imagine how beautiful the street would have been without the traffic congestion and lack of maintenance one finds here today. There have been attempts to resolve the parking problems but these haven't been entirely successful. One of the options has been to build a parking facility above the Shivaji Nagar Bus Stand in the vicinity. According to a few of the shopowners, this facility is not fully utilised since many visitors to Russell market are unaware of its existence. Secondly, a one-way access on the linkage between Shivaji Nagar Bus stand and Russell market requires cars to take a much longer detour before they can reach the Parking facility and many people opt for parking in front of the shops, adding to the congestion here.

"In the old days, I would wake up at four in the morning to come to the market. From 4am once our business started, until 10 am, we would not have the time to even have a cup of tea. That is how good our business was. We would eat our breakfast at 11am or 12 noon. After that, till 3 to 3.30 in the afternoon we would take a nap. Then, until 10pm, there would be so many people at the market. This was how it was about twenty years ago.”

These recollections of the vendors at Russell market were a way for us to recreate the bazaar in our minds. There is so little documentation available on our marketplaces that these oral history interviews become for us an important tool to understand the way in which bazaars work.

Interviewers : Rakshitha K.S. and Srishti Singh

Related Posts :
What is Russell Market
Urban Structure: City Market and Russell Market
How Green is my Bazaar
Marketplaces and Tourism


Meena Venkataraman said...

Very interesting!... and such a great idea

radha said...

I think it is a common occurrence. I can vividly remember some of the markets I would visit as a kid, and I dread going to those places now. They are not the same anymore. Unless some of these places are pedestrianised these will remain inaccessible to most people, at least those like me! But as you say, rent of Rs 200/- in the present day? Unheard of. Probable cause of poor maintenance.

joshi daniel said...


Anil P said...

In Calcutta, there's the Russell Street. Wonder if these two have the same origin, unlikely though.

Congestion as in parking is an issue, surely. Like you said there's so little documentation.

If there's is any, it's likely some of the foreigners they mention might've photographed or written about this market decades ago.

Indian Bazaars said...

Meena: Thanks.

Radha: It would be nice to see some of our bazaars pedestrianised.

Joshi Daniel: Thanks for dropping by.

Anil: You are right about the historical accounts. These are mostly written by British travellers and administrators. The Russell market was built in 1927 during the colonial rule. It is good to have access to this writing now, though it would be nice to have current mapping of the everyday life here as well.

UrbanChild said...

have been reading your blog and think it is a brilliant idea that you are trying to document Bangalore's history.
Just wanted to add in that Adam's and other old shops, tiny and hidden most of the time within the russel market- shivajinagar vicinity are still the places to go to, where one can buy just about anything.